Gene White, a local known author, has written and co-authored several books with Marshall McGhee, about Briceville. With permission from Gene, here are excerpts from a book called, “Briceville, the town that coal built”.
The Briceville Air Force Base
In the late 1940’s the Federal Government felt that it was necessary to provide an early warning system for Oak RIdge. A radar installation seemed adequate to provide this warning in case of an enemy attack.
Construction began in 1950 and in 1951, the 663rd Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron moved into new military installation on Cross Mountain above Briceville.
The base was designed to accommodate many more than the 365 men living on the main base. The radar installation sitting atop the mountain was nearly 1000 feet higher in elevation. Men moved to and from the installation by way of a 10,000 foot tramway.
The 663rd had an effect on the area economy. A number of jobs were made available during the construction. Area merchants benefited from the 365 men spending their pay in Briceville and Lake City. To prove this point, the base would occasionally pay the men with two dollar bills.
After a rocky start, even blaming such things as a drought on the radar, the base was finally accepted. A number of the servicemen found brides among the local girls. A few returned to this area to live after they left the air force.
The radar was doomed from the start. It was too high to pick up low flying aircraft, and lower units picked up too much “ground clutter” from surrounding mountains to be effective.
During the 1950’s cutbacks in military spending caused the closing of a number of small, limited value bases around the country, including the one at Briceville. The unit evacuated Cross Mountain, the base was dismantled and the land sold.